Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cow-Punk Addendum: Roots Rock Weirdos

“There’s no such thing as cow-punk.”
Did I say that? Yes, though in my defense it was back in 1985. I was a sixteen year-old loitering in the basement of
a sleazeball bar named Wellington’s, after witnessing Soul Asylum play a sweaty, full-bore show. The band had refused to play anything from their first e.p., Say What You Will, instead focusing exclusively on the less thrashy (and perhaps a touch more country) material from the stunning Made to be Broken album. Some fellow-traveler claimed, "Soul Asylum and this band from Edmonton, Jr. Gone Wild, are cow-punk”. I dismissed this possibility out of hand since back in the 80’s I, as narrow-minded music fans will, disavowed all country music.

Soon after the roots-rock sound (one of the more flagrantly critic-created genres) would be in full swing. When faced with an enemy as ugly as soulless and gutless synth-pop, a million bands (often older punks) went back in time. Eighties bands exhumed garage rock, folk-rock and psychedelia with glee. Then of course there was country-rock, which almost every single recording artist of the 60’s claims credit for (by the way it’s all about Buck Owens, the death-deifying Mr. Parsons aside). The less commercial bands (Jason and the Scorchers etc.) got called cow-punk and the ones who made beer commercials (Del Fuegos etc.) got labeled roots-rock. Unfortunately, all of the Bolo tie wearin' twangers got wiped out as the 80‘s bled into the 90’s. However, soon enough Uncle Tupelo managed to steal every ounce of credit leaving those pioneers cruelly empty-handed.

And there, North of all the action, was Mike McDonald, criminally neglected also-ran and linchpin of the Jr. Gone Wild. “They've been called "the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams." Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones” says an article on their thorough (and ten-year old!) web site.

The first album, 1986's Less Art, More Pop, works a punkish R.E.M. angle (though they claimed in old interviews that B.Y.O. Records forced the twee-hippie gear on them). Already Mike and his ever-changing but always talented support cast were writing smart, self-deprecating but ringing songs, such as “Slept all Afternoon" and the hardcore-lengthed (1:19!) yet sparkling, "It Never Changes".

Less Art, More Pop

In between record deals Jr. Gone Wild self-released Folk You a revealing, if artlessly titled, "assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs" (says the band web page). Within the digitized Chromium Dioxide here you will find an archetypal cow-punk double-timer, "Despite the Rain", a pretty ballad "Sleep with a Stranger", the Dylan-esque,"Rhythm of the Rain" plus another of McDonald's hummable jangly-pop numbers, "What's Going On?" (Covered by previous MRML object of obsession, the Doughboys!) which you may listen to right NOW!

Download Folk You

After moving to “rootsy” Canadian indie label Stony Plain for their sadder, wiser second album, Too Dumb To Quit (nice Ramones reference). This incarnation of JGW fell under the infleunce of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and (if McDonald is to be believed) gallons upon gallons of alcohol. The word Mature got hastily thrown around by critics but that can't be a bad thing if it produced sturdy mid-tempo weepers like "Poet's Highway" and full-blooded rockers like “In Contempt of Me".

Too Dumb to Quit

Mike sobered up for what may be their strongest album Simple Little Wish (which like it’s predecessor Pull the Goalie is still available from Stony Plain Records). Then, as is often the case for indie bands who burst out of the gate, things just died out and Jr. disbanded.

So enjoy the songs, even if cow-punk was just a dumb label.


  1. Tragic Revelation: The one and only time I saw Jr. Gone Wild was over my shoulder as I left a Rheostatics gig sometime in the early 90's. I had yet to develop my Alt-Country Sense which, rest assured, would have been tingling.

  2. Yeah haven't we all ignored a great band in favour of...well..something else (can't

  3. I never made the move to punk-roots country, but I know of many who did and they swore by it with their lives. I like Blood On The Saddle now and have always liked that first Bob Mould produced record by Soul Asylum, but in the 80s I was only into Rank and File and Rubber Rodeo. I shall download these songs and give them a going over.


  4. great post jeffen.i had a copy of this on cassette and played it to death.thanks for putting this one up.

  5. Emerson

    I always liked Blood on the Saddle who knew how to whip the shit out old country songs. Their own songs weren't always as good but still a fun band.

    It's an impressive site you've built over the years (I referenced it myself when re-writing my Sloppy Seconds vs. Screeching Weasel post last week.

    I added you to my blogroll


    Glad you enjoyed the work (out of curiosity which album are you referring to - I'm guessing it's Less Art...

  6. JGW were the bee's nuts, no question!
    Mike McM is a great songwriter, & many of the revolving cast contributed fine songs too. I couldn't believe they'd knock it on the head after such a great album as Simple Little Wish.
    I first met 'em at the Mariposa folkfest in '92 or so, jamming on Ramones tunes at the afterparty (somewhat to the confusion/consternation of some of the folkies, needless to say...)
    Good on yer for bigging them up (and Jerry Jerry, and Wreckless Eric!)

  7. Patrick
    It is always amazing that Mcdonald let others write songs and that the other writer's songs seemed to fit so well that you can't always tell the difference. Killer band, much missed.

  8. Hey Jeffen

    You post some mid 80s Vancouver stuff.Somebody asks for Brilliant Orange's 'Happy Man' ep.Wilfully Obscure posts that ep.I get to thinkin' of Jr. Gone Wild and Jerry Jerry.I thank you for posting 'Folk You'.I check out Stony Plain Records and note the two CDs by Jr.Gone wild.I think of the solo albums by Graham Brown that I have bought.I get to thinkin' ... HELP!

    And there is always Los Popularos!

    Thanks as always.


  9. Doug

    I'm gonna link to that BO post tomorrow, for reasons that will soon become clear.


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